Wyoming Task Force Digs Into Controversial BLM Rock Springs Plan

Gov. Mark Gordon plans to deliver the Bureau of Land Management a message from Wyoming about the agency’s controversial Rock Springs area plan. He’s appointed a task force to help outline what that message will be.

Mark Heinz

November 21, 20234 min read

A loop of motorized trails in the Red Desert area of Wyoming near a place called Adobe Town is featured in this documentary film on the RideBDR YouTube channel.
A loop of motorized trails in the Red Desert area of Wyoming near a place called Adobe Town is featured in this documentary film on the RideBDR YouTube channel. (Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Gov. Mark Gordon has something to say to the Bureau of Land Management about its controversial Rock Springs Resource Management Plan, and a task force of prominent Wyomingites representing a spectrum of interest groups will help him say it.

The 11-member task force, appointed by Gordon, hosted public workshops in Rock Springs and Farson over the weekend and will have its first formal meeting Tuesday to draw up its charter, task force member Taylor Jones told Cowboy State Daily on Monday.

Jones is a Sweetwater County Commissioner and was appointed to represent motorized recreation interests on the task force. In addition to the 11 voting members, the task force will have advisors, Jones said.

During the workshops, “overwhelmingly, one term I heard repeatedly was ‘access,’ and the other was ‘multiple use,’” he said.

The process will be quick, he said. The task force is expected to have a list of recommendations for Gordon ready by early January 2024. Those recommendations could include suggested actions for the governor and state, including suing the BLM over the plan.

What Wyoming Wants

The primary mission of the task force is to make recommendations for Gordon and the BLM, said Michael Pearlman, spokesman for Gordon’s office.

“The task force will cooperatively develop recommendations for responsible and durable management of the Rock Springs Management Area of Southwest Wyoming,” Pearlman told Cowboy State Daily. “Those recommendations will incorporate public input from the workshops that were just held. A final report of recommendations will be delivered to the governor and BLM.”

Will The BLM Will Listen?

The draft RMP has drawn criticism since it was released earlier this year.

The Rock Springs BLM field office oversees roughly 3.6 million acres in Wyoming, much of it in Sweetwater County. The BLM’s preferred alternative of the draft RMP, “Alternative B,” designates 1.8 million acres of that as “areas of critical environmental concern” (ACES).

That’s sparked worry that, if the plan is implemented in its current form, it could hamper public access to vast swaths of the area, and also stifle the Sweetwater County economy by restricting energy development, cattle grazing and other uses.

Jones said that from his perspective as a motorized user, keeping roads and trails open in the Rock Springs area is vital.

“Typically, in Sweetwater County, we’re heavily motorized,” because the distances across the Red Desert are so vast, Jones said.

Even nonmotorized users, such as hikers and mountain bikers, could be affected if too many roads are shut down, he added.

“Typically, you have to have some sort of motorized transportation to get you 40 miles or more to the place where you’re going to recreate,” he said.

The task force includes people with a variety of interests, but there’s hope that a common vision will emerge, Jones said.

“Most of the ones (other task force members) I’ve talk with want to find some good common ground and come up with some good recommendations,” he said.

As to whether the task force’s recommendations will resonate with the BLM, it’s too early to tell, Jones said. “I sure hope it will make a difference. What the BLM does with it, I can’t say.”

Task Force Interest Groups, Members

The other voting task force members and their represented interest groups include:

  • Chairman: Joel Bousman, Retired Sublette County Commissioner

  • Senate President Ogden Driskill

  • House Speaker Albert Sommers

  • Livestock: Jim Magagna, executive vice president for the Wyoming Stock Growers Association

  • Mining: Mike McGrady, Sisecam USA

  • Oil and Gas: Colin McGee, Petroleum Association of Wyoming

  • Tourism/Economic Development: Kayla McDonald, Sweetwater Economic Development Coalition

  • Sportsmen/Hunting: Josh Coursey, Muley Fanatics

  • Conservation: Alec Underwood, Wyoming Outdoor Council

  • Local Government: Keaton West, Sweetwater County Commission Chairman

  • Renewable Energy/Utilities: Ron Wild, Rocky Mountain Power

The public comment for the Rock Springs RMP is open until Jan. 17, 2024. The draft RMP and instructions for filing comments are available online.

Mark Heinz can be reached at mark@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Mark Heinz

Outdoors Reporter